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This review is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

ALTERNATING CURRENTS ALAN SHAPIRO, The Dead Alive and Busy (University of Chicago Press) £8.50
MARY JO SALTER, A Kiss in Space (Arc) £7.95
JANE GRIFFITHS, A Grip on Thin Air (Bloodaxe) £6.95
JOANNE LIMBURG, Femenismo (Bloodaxe) £6.95

The title of Alan Shapiro's sixth collection comes from the seventeenth-century English poet Henry Vaughan who saw our experience of the world as loss because it inhibited union with God. Many of the lyrics in Silex Scintillans (1650) focus on death - specifically the death of his brother - as the beginning of that union. The Dead Alive and Busy is concerned with the ageing and death of close relatives and with registering how the getting of wisdom is synonymous with loss. Shapiro uses relaxed conversational lines to make his observations all the more striking:

The dance floor is an oval incandescence
against the dark, and they are spectral in it,
my mother and father, as they glide across.
[ ... ]
Nearly midnight. The calendar pages flutter
backward in the breeze of melody ...
('New Year's Eve in the Aloha Room')

Shapiro applies this style to portraying what one might term the extremes of intimacy: rubbing his father's feet with cream, 'my little naked daughter' - touching herself and hospital death bed scenes. There are also poems which describe college boys visiting a lap-dancing club, an old couple's last lovemaking and being given a lift by a gay man who makes an inept pass. Shapiro's subjects make him reminiscent of C. K. Williams although he lacks Williams's self-regard. The Dead Alive and Busy wants to load well-written poetry with awkward and uncomfortable lessons about life. The ...


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